Support for most vulnerable may be lost with payment-by-results, warns charity

Neil Puffett
Thursday, July 21, 2011

Children with severe emotional problems or those deeply entrenched in gang culture may miss out on attempts to steer them onto the right path as a result of plans to introduce payment-by-results youth justice services, a charity has claimed.

Government says payment-by-results will incentivise provision of services for children in trouble with the law. Image: Arlen Connelly
Government says payment-by-results will incentivise provision of services for children in trouble with the law. Image: Arlen Connelly

A briefing paper by the National Association for Youth Justice (NAYJ), which promotes the rights of, and justice for, children and young people in trouble with the law, raises serious concerns about the consequences of such a move.

The government argues payment-by-results will incentivise provision of services for children in trouble with the law and reduce reoffending.

But the NAYJ paper outlines concerns that applying market mechanisms to youth justice services will have unintended consequences.

It states that payment-by-results will lead to "cherry-picking", whereby services are primarily provided to children most likely to meet to targets.

Children with the highest levels of need – such as serious emotional problems, learning difficulties or those deeply entrenched in gang culture – would be unattractive to contractors because of the risk to the financial return on their investment.

"There is a real risk that incentivising providers to focus on short-term reoffending rates will do nothing to address some of the real problems that give rise to youth crime," report author Tim Bateman said.

Bateman said the system could also lead to a situation where it is in a service provider's interest to allow a child who is at high risk of reoffending to end up in custody where they would not count within their targets.

Earlier this week, the Youth Justice Board revealed it will look to launch payment-by-results systems for youth offending teams.

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